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New Year, New Skills

By Liz Ryan One of these days, we'll all figure out how to avoid feeling guilty about our New Year's resolutions. The secret is to pick ones with a deadline of sometime next summer: Not so late that you procrastinate forever, but early enough that you leave yourself the fourth quarter to relax -- and think up new resolutions.

That said, there's one critical to-do item that's best attended to now: Reviewing how your work accomplishments in 2004 advanced your career and enhanced your r?sum? -- and setting goals for 2005 that will do the same.

20 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE? Given the unpredictability of business, you may be pleased just to still be employed. But remember A.H. Maslow's hierarchy of needs (from your freshman-year psychology class)? After you take care of your requirements for food and shelter, you seek intellectual stimulation, and so on up Maslow's pyramid, until you've found inner peace -- or an iPod mini.

Somewhere near the top of the pyramid, you should find the question: How is this job helping me?

An easy way to measure that is to look at your résumé. Update it to reflect where you are now. Then identify what you've done in the past 12 months that made you more powerful, more interesting, or more marketable. (Remember the old saw: Have you had 20 years of experience, or one year's experience repeated 20 times?) Pick out every new skill or accomplishment you can claim now that you couldn't have a year ago.

GETTING PAID ISN'T ENOUGH. Let's say you worked on some really big, complicated projects. Great. Were they résumé worthy? Did you learn about new industries? Did you manage the project team? You may have worked long hours, pressed hard for great results, and committed yourself 100% to your job. You hope your boss will recognize those contributions at performance-review time. But looking at your résumé, would anyone else?

"What do I care?" you may be thinking, "I have no intention of leaving this job anytime soon."

Here's why you should care: If all you did last year was work hard and get paid, you didn't learn much. And if you aren't learning, your career isn't moving ahead -- it's moving backward. So even if you plan to spend another year, or many more, with your current company, 12 months without job growth is 12 months of lost opportunity.

MANY WAYS TO IMPROVE. I would argue that your company owes you more than that. I'm not talking about promotions and title changes. In any knowledge-worker environment, you can enlarge your skill set a dozen ways without changing roles. Here are four, any two of which your boss could make possible for you in 2005, if only you ask -- or insist:

Be placed on a task force in an area where you haven't worked before.

Manage a large project, or serve as the boss's project assistant on something you haven't been involved with previously.

Cross-train to learn a colleague's work.

Gain customer-facing experience by accompanying salespeople on outside calls.

You can probably think of a dozen more ways to gain résumé- and career-enhancing experiences in 2005. If I knew more about your company and your position, I could be more specific (so if you want ideas, please write me at

EARLY START. The point is that you can make a plan to broaden your learning in 2005, just as you've undoubtedly planned to work out more and save more money. And in this career-planning exercise, you can include as an ally your boss, who has an interest in keeping your skills sharp.

And what if you survey the landscape and conclude that your company has nothing more to offer you -- that it's same old, same old, everywhere you look? That's good to know, too. Early in the year is a great time to launch a job search. And hey -- now your résumé is up to date. Do you have any great business leadership tips to share with BusinessWeek Online's readers? Send them to Liz Ryan, an at-work expert, speaker, and writer, and CEO of online networking organization WorldWIT

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